Road Tests :: Timbuk2 Especial Messenger
The Especial is Timbuk2’s full spec messenger, with all the bells and whistles designed into it. From the awesome Fidlock buckles through to a highly adjustable and padded strap system there is a lot to this bag.
So how does it perform?
It performs well, especially if you like getting geeky with your carry.
Want a little more detail? Read on…
What’s it about?
Most product design is done to a price target. The larger the brand, the more that tends to play out.
So most of the carry gear we review was created with a series of compromises built in, so that it can hit a mainstream price-point.
The Especial is more about breaking free of the price-point constraint. While most T2 messengers sell for around $100, the Especial is $200. While most models pick a feature to add, the Especial adds pretty much all the features.
So the Especial is all about Timbuk2 going all out.
Who it suits
This is aimed squarely at the cycling commuter. Heck, the full name is even the Especial Cycling Messenger Bag. That means the feature set, the performance spec, and even the look of it are all about getting to work or uni and home again, no matter what the weather or time of day/night.
But as with lots of specialist bags, that single-minded focus actually results in quite a resolved product, which works pretty well as a general work or travel messenger.
And if your bike has a motor in it, this is a pretty good option to consider.
Who it doesn’t suit
This is ‘more is more’ design. If you’re into minimalist poetry, you’re checking out the wrong bag. This bag also focuses on cycling, so if you’re looking for a travel-focused messenger check out other styles from T2 with flip down TSA laptop sections and luggage handle pass throughs.
The looks are shooting for performance stealth tech. All black is a winning combo often missing from T2 (where gray binding often waters down the black colorways). That whole performance vibe does leave the bag looking quite synthetic, with the TPU coating a bit vinyl-like and the small bumps on the back panel pads having a touch of Oakley style S&M. So it’s more performance than style focused, with a clear bent to wet weather.
I love those old folk who always simplify the world into two types (which I’m about to do to messengers):
Type 1: Those free-form messenger bags that don’t have a flat element anywhere.
Type 2: Messengers designed around a flat back panel
This single difference in approach makes a huge change to the vibe of a messenger. The Timbuk2 takes a flat back panel (type 2), and then creates form out from that. It means it’s a reasonably square messenger, but with some tapering elements to break that up. It won’t wrap and form around you as well as some classic messenger forms, but it will deal better with laptops and square things.
There are stiffeners in the side walls to keep its form, but the tapered base won’t let you stand it up for office duty.
There are lots. There’s Polyester Ripstop (Cordura), TPU coated nylon, TPU coated polyester, lots of reflective binding, lots of Velcro, and even some airmesh on the shoulder pad (always a bad move on bare skin).
Because it’s all black this abundance of materials doesn’t clash too badly, so the overall effect is again of performance synthetic.
It’s all easy to clean, but if you have a white cat, you’ll notice.
No issue here. It’s built well. The stitching stays put. The bag should last.
Ahhh, Fidlock. We love you. T2 have spent the coin on some of the best buckles out there. Fidlock use magnets to make opening buckles one-handed a breeze, and it really does make a difference. Unfortunately there’s still the rip of Velcro to open the flap, but at least the first action of releasing the buckles has poetry.
The rest of the hardware is solid but unremarkable stuff. Duraflex plastics, YKK water-resistant zips, and some pretty trick bike grip zip pulls.
The main strap buckle is plastic rather than anodised aluminium like more high-end messengers are now doing.
I love an ambidextrous main strap. It means you can change things up and save your spine alignment, wearing it on your right or left shoulder with only a little fiddling to swap.
Unfortunately the velcro system that facilitates this can make a bit of noise as you settle the positioning in (Velcro rips are very disconcerting). This actually gets a bit annoying, but you learn to deal with it.
There are lots of reflective hits, which are a great way of making a black messenger safer. As with all reflective binding we’ve tried, it will crack around the fold areas, but the overall benefits make this worth it.
We were scratching our heads a little with this one. There’s a nice sleeve to position a laptop well, but it’s not padded at the base. I guess that means they want you to buy one of their sleeves to work with it.
They look sharp and interesting and are covered in reflective tape. I don’t think we used them once though.
The main strap of a messenger is a huge part of its comfort, and the Especial does a fairly good job. There is nice width, a good curve (avoiding the pinch some do), and firm padding.
Unfortunately there is then airmesh (scratchy on bare skin), the strap webbing is a little short, and the loose end flaps around unless you use the plastic clip (which is a bit annoying). But these are all small enough niggles. The strap comfort is almost as good as the Mission Workshop bags.
Space & Access
We liked the small version more than the medium. The small looks tight. It works a treat for everyday work stuff (laptop, tablet, mouse, charger), and has space for a sweater or jacket.
The medium looks scaled up so it’s missing some of the charisma. However, if you’re going to overnight or travel with it you’ll need the medium.
The Especial almost has great pocketing. It’s better than most other messengers for this.
There are side pockets hiding next to the flap for accessing contents on the go. There is a nice sectioned off organiser accessed from within the bag. Also there is a twin section pocket on the front.
So what’s it missing?
If you have some lumpy/bulky items, they still fight for space with all the pocketing essentially in the same zone. If they swapped those external pockets to push into the side zones you’d get around this issue and the bag would hit the excellent zone for organising.
This is an Everyday Waterproof messenger. There’s no dreaded Gorby Gap, with the slight tube opening pinching on closure, which seals the bag up a treat.
Interestingly they’ve used a Velcro hack to keep the opening behaving (which feels a little like a duct tape solution), but it works well enough.
The zips are all weatherproof, and the suspended lining works well. You can’t throw it over Niagara, but you’ll be fine riding through a Seattle winter.
I doubt they’re making full margin on this bag. With so many brand name components $179 for the small or $199 for the large actually feels like pretty solid value. I think this is a brand positioning piece for T2, and so you get the benefit of that.
Other bags to check out
MW Rummy is the benchmark in this space. This has more organising, but is not as elegant or expandable. I think your design philosophy will affect this choice more than anything (is more, or less, more…?).
This bag also reminds us of the Kona in the ‘more is more’ approach, but this is a much more resolved bag than the Kona.
You should also check the Bedouin, which has more style but fewer features.
This is a really solid messenger if you are commuting. It misses some of the style of other brands, but fills that void with features.
It deals better with tech and toys than most bike brands, and the weatherproofing is excellent.
If they could reduce their dependence on Velcro, simplify a few elements, nail the main strap and get some side zone pocketing sorted, they’d have a cracker of a messenger.